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Stiff Leg Deadlift: Tips, How-To, Common Mistakes + FAQ

When talking about the deadlift in general, the person talking about it almost always refers to the conventional deadlift. However, there are many different variants of doing this exercise. One of those variants is the stiff leg deadlift. This exercise primarily targets the hamstrings. 

It is therefore an effective exercise to add to your training schedule if you would like to do an exercise for your hamstrings. 

Here you can read an extensive explanation about how you can perform the stiff leg deadlift as correctly as possible to properly stimulate your hamstring.

Which muscles do you use during the stiff leg deadlift?

As you have just read, you mainly use your hamstrings when performing a stiff leg deadlift. We can describe this exercise as a compound, which means that even more muscle groups are stimulated during the exercise. 

First of all, you also use your glutes. You will notice that you can tighten the buttocks well, especially in the upper part of the movement. This way, in addition to your hamstrings, you will also stimulate your buttocks.

Your lower back is also put to work. It is important that you keep your lower back straight while performing the stiff leg deadlift. Your upper back should also remain under tension, so this is also used during the exercise. 

Holding the bar throughout the exercise also takes a lot out of your grip. For example, you have to squeeze the bar hard, so that your forearms will also be trained.

Stiff Leg Deadlift

Stiff leg deadlift: the execution

We have developed a simple step-by-step plan so that you can perform the exercise correctly. It is important that you read these steps carefully to perform the exercise as efficiently as possible. This ensures that your hamstrings are optimally stimulated and you achieve maximum results.

  1. Setup

    Place a barbell on the floor and provide it with the desired weight. Have you never done the exercise? Start with a lightweight or, if necessary, just the bar.

  2. Stand in the starting position

    Stand straight in front of the barbell with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Push your hips back slightly and keep your knees almost completely straight. At the same time, lower your torso while keeping your back straight. Grab the barbell a little more than shoulder-width apart so that your arms are just past your legs.

  3. Lift the barbell up

    Make sure the bar is above the middle of your foot. Now lift the barbell by raising your torso and pushing your hips forward. Keep the bar as close to your body as possible and make sure your back remains straight.

  4. Lower the barbell

    Lower the barbell back to the starting position by pushing your hips back, bending your knees very slightly, and lowering your torso in a controlled manner. You should feel your hamstrings pull here.

  5. Repeat

    Repeat the above steps for the desired number of reps.

If you're unsure about how many reps to do, a good goal is to just start with 8 to 12 reps per set. Start the stiff leg deadlift with a weight that is easy for you to do. Try to pay attention to your form, this is more important than how hard you do the exercise. If it becomes too light after a while, you can increase the exercise with confidence.

Most common mistakes

To prevent you from performing the exercises incorrectly and possibly injuring yourself, we have compiled a list below of the most common mistakes when performing the stiff leg deadlift. Read this carefully for a perfect technique.

  1. Round back
    The stiff leg deadlift can feel unnatural for some people due to the straight position of the legs. This may cause them to bulge in an attempt to lower their weight. As a result, there is an annoying tension on the lower back and, moreover, the tension on the hamstrings is also reduced. Can't drop lower and can't push your hips further back? Then you have reached your maximum depth. Also, try to keep your neck straight. This can help keep your back straight.
  2. Bar too far forward
    Another mistake that can sometimes lead to a rounded back is letting the bar hang too far forward. Leaving the bar hanging too far forward can prevent you from keeping your back straight and also puts unnecessary stress on your lower back. Would you like to prevent injuries? Then make sure you keep the bar close to your legs. A good starting point is that the bar should be above the center of your foot at all times.
  3. Bending knees
    Something you don't want to do with a stiff leg deadlift is bending your knees. In doing so, you are rejecting the entire intent of the exercise. By keeping your legs straight, you minimize the input of your quadriceps and stimulate your hamstrings to the maximum. Therefore, make sure to keep your knees as straight as possible, with only a very slight bend to reduce pressure on the knee joint.

Frequently Asked Questions

To complete the explanation of the stiff leg deadlift, we will discuss a number of frequently asked questions. Hopefully, all your questions about this exercise have been answered in the end and with this knowledge, you can enter the gym well prepared next time.

Which muscles do you train with a stiff leg deadlift?

When performing the stiff leg deadlift, you mainly use your hamstrings. In addition, you also use your lower and upper back, your buttocks, and your forearms. The exercise, therefore, belongs to the compound exercises, because several muscle groups are trained.

Is stiff leg deadlift bad for your back?

No, the stiff leg deadlift is not bad for your back. In fact, performing this exercise correctly will actually have a strengthening effect on your back muscles. During the exercise, your back should be tense to prevent it from bulging. The muscles in the back are therefore heavily used for this. With the exercise, you can, in addition to your hamstrings, also strengthen your back muscles.

Can you do the exercise on a smith machine?

In principle, it is possible to do a stiff leg deadlift on a smith machine, but due to the limitation in freedom of movement, we would not recommend this. Because you are forced to move the bar in a fixed movement, you may not be able to perform the exercise optimally. If you have the option to do it with a barbell, it's probably better to choose that.

Stiff leg deadlift vs conventional deadlift?

If you want to know which of the two is better, the answer is neither is better or worse than the other. Both deadlift variations have their own pros and cons and cannot be viewed as alternatives. The stiff leg deadlift is more hamstring dominant and the conventional deadlift is more back dominant. Depending on which muscle group you would like to train, you can determine which form of deadlift you add to your training schedule.

Want to see more hamstring exercises? Check them all out here: hamstring exercises.

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